with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Walking the Cat in Mobile, Alabama

Brent VanFossen and Howard West, walking the cat, photograph by Lorelle VanFossen

Of the last photographs I have of my father, this one is a favorite. It features my father, Howard West, and my husband, Brent VanFossen, walking the campground in Mobile, Alabama, where we lived for a year and a half. It was about four or five months after Hurricane Katrina and the panic of the aftermath had died down in the campground, which was used as a staging area by insurance and recovery workers.

One of the victims of Hurricane Katrina was the little tiger tabby kitten that arrived at our campsite the night I arrived with my father from Seattle. I brought him to us in Alabama to spend a winter being warm instead of freezing in his cold and damp house up north. The kitten, eventually named Holiday, arrived on Thanksgiving and by Christmas we knew he was ours.

Holiday loved to go on walks, following us around the campground, but always returning back with us demanding the love and attention he missed, losing his family, cat and human, in the storm. We tried for weeks to track down his owners to no avail, and now, we couldn’t imagine life without him.

As I look at this picture of the three of them, I remember how happy my father was there. Not completely happy, but content to sit out in the sun, read his book, and talk to the locals. And he adored that kitten. We’d brought his own cat, but there was something about Holiday – you just couldn’t help but want to snuggle him close.

My father died a few months later, after 30 years battling health problems. He rarely walked, but he got around quite a bit in the warmth of the Alabama winter.

For me, it’s the way I want to remember my father.

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